When I think of foods I’m likely to encounter in the Himalayan areas, I think of momos, thukpa, yak cheese. But wait. All these dishes are of Tibetan origin. With that comes the realization that I, and most of us, have little idea as to what is consumed in an Indian home located in the foothills of the grand mountains on a regulaar day. That makes Veena Sharma’s book a crucial addition to the category of Indian food literature.
From Jammu, the Himalayan foothills pass through the Kangra Valley and extend through Sirmaur district to Dehradun and go on to touch the Garhwal and Kumaon regions. Out of this vast expanse of land, boasting a diverse range of local produce and food habits, the author has focused on the cuisine of the Garhwal region. Though simple and earthy in presentation, Garhwali cuisine, says Sharma, provides nourishment to the body, mind and soul.
The book would be incomplete without Sharma’s personal musings on Garhwal and her memories of food that set up the journey the reader is about to embark on. Based in Rishikesh, she weaves a romantic tale about the sun, the wind, the land and how it nurtures the produce grown in the region and, ultimately, the people.
To the author, the food we consume is sacred. She approaches it almost reverentially, upholding the teachings of Ayurveda—studying how it impacts our well-being and contributes to holistic living.
While meat usually occupies pride of place in any Garhwali menu, Sharma introduces us to the region’s vegetarian food. Through this book, I undertook a vegetarian adventure, encountering unknown produce, local grains, lentils, nuts, herbs and seeds. Most of these are little known or completely unknown to those in the Indian plains. Kulath (gehet dal), Himalayan tor (similar to the arhar or toor dal, but not quite), pahadi urad dal, riyaans dal (a small kidney bean like legume made up of a rainbow of colours) and harsil ke rajma are among some of the lesser-known lentils grown and consumed in the region.
Apart from the traditional rice and wheat, Garhwal is also home to large variety of millets—bajra (pearl millet), jhangora (barnyard millet), kadra or mandua (kodo millet), which, says Sharma, pack in three to five times the nutrition rice and wheat have. These, she adds, blend well with other flours and can be used to make rotis, paranthas or puris, but also can be baked into biscuits, cookies, breads, cakes and muffins. Her recipe for biscuits that combines mandua, jowar and bajra, bound by a mixture of ground flax and chia seeds instead of eggs, was a revelation.